If you read this blog on a regular basis, then you already know Kingsley who belongs to one of my dearest friends, Amy. They have had a rough year, as 2-year-old Kingsley was diagnosed with Wobbler's Disease. I asked Amy if she'd mind sharing a little about their journey together, which completely displays true love and companionship at its best. So, grab the tissues, curl up with your pup, and settle in for this heartwarming story.
Some people never plan on getting a dog but end up with one when a stray shows up randomly one afternoon. Or maybe they didn't expect to see that cute box of puppies when they headed to the supermarket that day. I, on the other hand, had dreamt of getting a Great Dane for more than ten years. Everyone always asks me "Why would you want such a HUGE dog?" Well, I grew up on a farm. I had horses, cows, pigs... just like Old MacDonald. I love animals and have always been a "dog person." I was always intrigued when I saw a Dane. It was something about their gigantic, regal, yet clumsy stature that pulled me in. I researched the breed a good bit and only became more enamored. You'll find most anywhere that they are unequivocally referred to as "Gentle Giants." With that moniker, you'll often find images of them with tiny toddlers hugging their necks, which seems ironic given the notion that the bigger the dog, the more they tend to scare people. There's something that speaks to my soul about an animal that embodies such capable power and strength, yet chooses not to wield it. I finally got to a place in my life where I decided I was ready. It took me a few years to convince myself I could handle it and afford it, but the time came when it was a "now or never" moment. In all my research, I found a great breeder just west of Nashville at the time. Reading up on Danes you'll discover purebreds have the potential for quite a few health problems mainly due to their size. With the anticipation of being a first time Dane owner and wanting to ease into it, I decided getting a pup from good stock would help ward off some of the genetic issues and give me a better shot at a prolonged lifespan, since the average textbook lifespan of a Dane is only 7 years. Little did I know that my breeder had show stock and had some of the best Danes around. I wasn't completely ready for the price tag of such a pedigree, but I was committed and fortunately, even though I wasn't going to show, they allowed me to get a puppy. "Sir Kingsley" (as he's AKC registered) was born on December 4, 2010. The breeder called and let me know I could come out and take a look when the pups were a couple weeks old. When I got to the nursery I found four little fur balls huddled together near a heating lamp.
The breeder picked Kingsley up and handed him to me. It was love at first sight. I held him and he snuggled close up into my neck. I was elated! The worst part was having to leave him since I couldn't bring him home until he was seven weeks old - which is prime attachment time. Seven weeks couldn't pass fast enough. However, I had plenty to do to get the house ready for a baby puppy. You quickly learn that the size "XL" sometimes isn't big enough and you hope the pet supplier carries "giant" sized items. His crate was a nightmare trying to put together. I bought one that ultimately fit a full-size Dane, but you also buy this divider that you use to let your puppy grow into it. The crate is slightly smaller than a MINI-COOPER, a beast to maneuver, and took a community effort to put together. I was ready! Take Home Day came and I was so excited and nervous! I went with a very close friend to pick him up. They drove, I held him. It was late January and it was cold, so I zipped him up inside my jacket and he couldn't bury his head in my neck deep enough. He eventually stopped wiggling and fell asleep. When we got home, I immediately took him to a grassy area to do some business to try the potty training bit right away, which was pretty successful. We had friends come visit and he instinctively hid behind my legs when he was unsure. After having him only a few hours, he already seemed to be attaching to me.
Kingsley grew like a weed the first year. I could literally leave for work in the morning, come home in the evening and see that he had grown. He went from being born to weighing 125 lbs in one year. We became very attached to each other. As soon as he was old enough and had his shots, we went through two levels of obedience training, took hikes together and went to the dog park. It was important for me to socialize Kingsley early. When he was a puppy everyone would comment on how big his feet were. As he grew, his feet did too. To this day, he still gets comments on not only his size (often called a "horse"), but the size of his feet.
At the dog park Kingsley met LOTS of dogs and owners. Some welcomed him warmly, some didn't. As he grew and some other dogs were intimidated by his size, he would get picked on, and he would take it. As a mom, you want everyone (including other dogs) to like your dog. Your dog is your child. You feel responsible. Yet, I was intrigued to see the development of his personality and that witness that gentle strength that made me fall in love with the breed in the first place.The best thing Kingsley found at the dog park was his girlfriend, the one and only Claire Baby Butterworth. He's been taken with her from the beginning. Claire and her mom are the warm welcoming wagon of the dog park. Sweetly, Kingsley would follow Claire's lead and pretty much do anything she did. Claire taught him how to dig and crawl under the park benches. Most of all he learned the art of chasing and racing with her. While Kingsley is not incredibly fast compared to some breeds, watching him run is a sight to behold and always left me in awe. His big, beautiful strides were so amazing to watch as he'd thunder past you at a full gallop with his giant paws. He was a pretty active Dane growing up and he loved to play. About a year ago when Kingsley was just about to turn two, while at a routine visit to the dog park I noticed Kingsley trying to run to keep up with the pack. He couldn't seem to get coordinated with his front half and his back half. Inevitably, he tripped and fell. He scared himself and wobbled to get back up, quickly marking the end of our play time for that day. The first time it happened, I thought he just tripped. I took him to the park again a little while later, but this time when he fell in the pack he managed to get flipped on his back and it scared both of us. Thankfully he wasn't injured, but he still struggled to get back up. We immediately went home. While driving home I recollected some times when I noticed some weakness in his back end, and that he splayed his back legs when he'd walk/run. I decided it was time to check in with the vet. It took a couple vet visits and a lot of explaining, but they surmised that he might have Wobbler's Disease and said they needed to send me to a specialist to know for sure. We went to a few specialist appointments. They did x-rays and an exam and diagnosed him with Wobblers. For those of you unfamiliar with Wobblers, basically Kingsley has a malformed cervical vertebrae that is putting pressure on his spinal cord causing inflammation of the spinal cord and therefore weakness in his body. This is a disease that, over time, can take a toll on a Dane. Immediate treatment consists of steroids and medical management, which includes minimal and light exercise - meaning no dog park, no rough play, no quick jerky head movements (which makes playing tug very difficult and is one of his favorite games), minimal car rides, minimal stairs and other uneven or slippery surfaces. The other not-immediate option is surgery, but the prognosis of surgery is grim at best given that the procedure is difficult, quite invasive, and there is still no guarantee that it will be successful. The specialist didn't recommend the surgery unless his condition was so severe that it prevented him from daily self-care activities such as eating and going to the bathroom. While the specialist explained all this to me, I broke down and sobbed in the exam room. Kingsley was lying on the floor and I laid down with him and buried my head in his cheek and kissed him while my tears soaked into his fur. I pulled myself together and became determined to take care of him the best I could for the time I'm graciously given with him. I took an inventory of all the things we needed to adjust, and accommodations were made. The steroids definitely helped and I've seen the weakness disappear for the most part. However, the steroids made him gain weight - he's topped out at 180 lbs this year, which isn't good. I don't think I mentioned earlier that the reason Danes don't live longer lifespans is because their hearts can't keep up with their body mass. So weight on a Dane is not a good thing. You want them lean to try and keep the stress of the weight off their heart. However, I'm happy to report that we're a year in and Kingsley is doing okay. He is on a diet and has already been able to get down to 170 lbs, though I'm hoping he can still lose a bit more. While we miss the dog park terribly, we're thankful for dear friends like Claire who come over to the house to visit and socialize. Kingsley has adapted well and he continues to be such a good boy. He makes the most of his toy box which keeps him occupied for play time. As for me, I try not to take any moment with him for granted and I make a point to try and live in the moment of one day at a time. I love letting him put as much of himself in my lap as possible, cuddling (for the record, he likes to be the baby spoon), playing games in the living room, wrapping him up like a burrito in the bed sheets, and simply just spending time together. Looking back, I don't regret a thing - and certainly not my decision to get a Dane. This is the reality and fragility of life. Getting Kingsley was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. We're a good pair and we take care of each other - and I pray that we continue to have many good years together in front of us.